My Lords, we return to the issue of dealing with IPP prisoners. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that I do not think there is any doubt about the direction of travel. I am dubious about whether we need the kind of prescriptions in both amendments. Ministers are here to be questioned by Parliament. I do not think that there would be any problem in finding opportunities to check on progress, but let us see.
The Government, through the National Offender Management Service, have already made significant improvements to increase the supply of rehabilitation interventions for this group. One of the main criticisms of IPPs was that people became trapped in them in a kind of Catch-22; they had to fulfil certain requirements to be considered for release but the facilities and channels to get these qualifications, improvements and records were not there. Better use is already being made of sentence plans to prioritise interventions for existing IPPs where the need is greatest, and work is under way to ensure that programmes can be delivered more flexibly, supporting greater access and the inclusion of offenders with more complex needs such as learning difficulties.
In addition, a new specification for offender management, which will provide for the prioritisation of resources based on risk, will take effect from April 2012. Once embedded, this will result in the improved targeting of rehabilitative interventions for IPP prisoners. We are using a range of measures to improve the progression of these prisoners through their sentence, including improvements to assessment, sentence planning, and delivery and parole review processes.
I wrote to the noble Lord following Committee about the work that NOMS is doing to improve support for these prisoners, and I summarise the key points here. First, we plan to issue a prison service instruction that will require effective and realistic sentence plans to be put in place for all offenders on the new extended sentence and for IPP prisoners already in the system.
On the administration of support for IPP prisoners, there are already appropriate structures in place within NOMS to carry out this work. The Indeterminate Sentence Prisoners Co-ordination Group is the NOMS body responsible for co-ordinating the management of all indeterminate sentence prisoners-that is, lifers as well as IPPs. The group's purpose is to develop and promote the most effective means of managing this group of offenders and to ensure that resources are directed effectively. For example, the group has mandated work to improve the speed of allocation to open prison and identify ways of increasing capacity in the open prison estate for the IPPs, and has co-ordinated the introduction of a new centralised system for organising their transfer.
On the specific amendment, I should make it clear that, as legislation currently stands, it would not be possible for the Secretary of State to produce or delegate anything other than sentence plans for these offenders that may or may not result in progress to a quick release on licence. Statutorily, only the Parole Board can actually direct the release of IPP prisoners on the basis of risk criteria. Amending that situation would be a substantial change to sentences that have already been imposed and would require primary legislation. In Committee, I made it clear that the Government do not believe that that would be appropriate. On the proposal that such plans should be delegated, I noted that it would be unusual for legislation to go into this type of detail about the administration of executive duties.
My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford proposed a requirement for the Secretary of State to report regularly to Parliament on IPP prisoner parole status and interventions. Information on the number of IPP prisoners whose tariff has expired is published in the quarterly offender management statistics published by my department. The Parole Board's annual report publishes comprehensive data on its IPP application workload and backlog. I must resist the requirement to report on programmes in individual cases, as this would be hugely difficult to achieve. Offender managers will regularly review and update sentence plans.
Our recent research suggests that while the Parole Board will take account of the completion of accredited programmes when considering whether to direct the release of an IPP prisoner, this is only one part of the evidence that it will consider. Research shows that the parole process is targeted on the individual, and only programmes specific to the individual's needs that are successfully completed and show some impact on the prisoner are likely to be taken as evidence of sentence progression. Simply counting completed courses will not be good evidence of how prisoners in general are progressing.
I hope that I have said enough to reassure the House that we have already put effective measures in place to support these prisoners' progress towards release while keeping paramount our concerns for public safety. We have not introduced these reforms to the IPP system simply to see them fail. The biggest incentives for making sure that our reforms work are for the Ministers who brought them in, and we will be pleased to be judged by our results. I hope that both noble Lords will withdraw their amendment.